Edamame + Asparagus + Minty Citrusy Goodness

I tried a new combo of an old standby earlier this week–chicken and veggies.  It’s a common food theme at our house.  This try was Cooking Light’s Chicken Scaloppine with Sugar Snap Pea, Asparagus, and Lemon Salad

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photo by Becky Luigart-Stayner

Pretty, right?  Well, the chicken was good with a nice broth and wine sauce that made things a tiny bit different from the traditional salt/pepper combo.  It wasn’t earth-shattering though.  Just a good piece of chicken.

The veggies, however, were great.  Even if I didn’t have the right veggies.  Still great.  I used frozen edamame beans that I let sit out a bit to thaw and chopped asparagus as recommended in the original recipe.  Green beans (frozen or fresh) would work as a substitute for the snap peas, too.  We just didn’t have any of those.  So my version looked a bit more like this:

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photo from nomadwithcookies.com

At least pre-sauce, it looked exactly like that.  And the recipe went a bit like this:

Edamame with Asparagus and Minty Citrusy Goodness

Ingredients

  • 3 cups julienne-cut trimmed sugar snap peas (about 1 pound) or whole edamame beans or any kind of green beans
  • 2 cups (1-inch sliced) asparagus (about 1 pound)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preparation

  1. Steam edamame and asparagus, covered, 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Rinse pea mixture with cold water; drain.
  2. Combine salt, mint, oil, rind, and juice, stirring well with a whisk. Drizzle oil mixture over pea mixture; toss gently to coat.

Look at that, done in two steps!  The dressing is just enough to make you notice that these are more than simple steamed veggies.  It isn’t overpowering at all, which citrus and mint can be if left to their own devices.  It’s just fresh and a little bit fun, which is my favorite combo for summer food.  (Well, except for fattening and carb-filled, which is really my favorite food combo.  Mac and cheese with a good hot dog, anyone?)

Chicken and ‘Maters (and Havarti with Dill)

Today’s menu offering is a good Monday Night Special. It’s quick, simple, and the Havarti with dill is fancy enough to make Monday a little bit shinier (or any night, for that matter).

Yesterday was a pretty full day, which ended with a grocery store run, and some frustrating cabinet work. Those dern hinges are trying to kill us. Scott took a shot at them last night, after I gave up. Now it’s back to me for the last two adjustments today.

So back to dinner. There we were, frustrated by DIY projects and in need of some tasty food, stat. Chicken to the rescue.  This recipe is from my 2011-ish go-to cookbook: Real Simple’s Dinner Tonight: Done!

photo by Christopher Baker

photo by Christopher Baker

This isn’t my very favorite chicken recipe ever, but the Havarti with dill does jump it up the list above a bunch of other options.  I’ll tell you a secret.  Some of the cheese inevitably oozes out the side of the chicken while you’re cooking it in the pan, and it sizzles and browns on the pan.  My favorite thing about this recipe is the browned cheese on the pan.  Poor Scott doesn’t ever get to eat the sizzling cheese.  He just gets the official version with chicken and gooey cheese inside.  But it’s the crispy cheese that keeps me coming back.

Oh, and the tomatoes with pepperoncini and such are really nice and fresh to balance out the heavier chicken and cheese combo.

And now, I’m going to try to tackle those cabinet doors before Scott gets home.  Four hours and two doors?  Should be a cinch.  But that’s what I said about putting the doors up in the first place, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Dinner in Disguise

Some of my favorite recipes are ones that are really healthy while masquerading as decadent.  This salmon that we’ve enjoyed several times is on that list.  It’s just quick-cooking salmon and green beans (we usually use frozen both, since they’re cheaper that way).  That’s it.  Throw on some salt and pepper and a tiny bit of butter/oil to cook the salmon in.

Oh, and there are the magic ingredients that you put on top.  Don’t forget the magic.  After you cook the salmon, you empty the pan, throw in some extra butter and some sliced almonds, and let them brown up a bit.  Then you add some capers and pour it all on top of the beans and salmon.  There’s so much flavor packed into that sauce, and it makes the rest of the meal taste fancy and special and not at all like it took 10 minutes to cook.  Really.  The recipe says it takes 20 minutes, and this might be the only recipe in all of recipekind that I can cook more quickly than it says.  Oooh, aaah.

Beware though.  I forgot to put the buttered almond caper goodness on top when I packaged up leftovers, and it was sadly healthy and non-fancy tasting.

photo from Real Simple

photo from Real Simple

If you want the recipe to err on the side of health a little bit more, you can just edit down the butter quantity in the sauce.  If you want it to be extra saucy, throw in some extra butter and toppings.  I love how easy it is.

[You know what is proving not easy?  Screwing cabinet doors onto cabinet bases with a simple screwdriver and new hinges that I might not have completely mastered.  But that’s okay.  I’m going to attack them with a power drill today.  And I’m going to finish a book and paint a watercolor and conquer the world. Or most of those things.]

Because Mondays Need Pizza

Yesterday included a job interview, today included a doctor’s appointment (no big deal, just not my favorite), and last night needed to include pizza.  I mean, it really needed pizza.  It needed cheese and comfort and celebration and carbs.

I’m trying to be healthy though, and we did have homemade pizza last week.  That meant coming up with something else for dinner last night.  Something else that fit into my three main recipe metrics for the night: 1) healthy, 2) cheap, 3) made me feel like pizza.

I’m pretty proud of what came out of my brainstorming, actually.  We had delicious stuffed sweet potatoes for dinner–stuffed with ground turkey (and spice and everything nice), black beans, homemade guacamole, green onions, and a tiny bit of Monterey Jack cheese.  And you know what?  It felt just like pizza.  It was bready and absolutely delicious.  It had lots of flavor, thanks to the guacamole, and I would eat it again tomorrow.

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not my potatoes… photo from alaskafromscratch.com

 

my potatoes... not as pretty, fully delicious

my potatoes… not as pretty, fully delicious

I didn’t use a recipe, so I made a recipe instead:

Ingredients

  • 4 sweet potatoes
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • whatever turkey spice you want to use: cayenne, cumin, and chili powder, for example
  • 1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 avocados (I used 1, but only because I didn’t have 2), mashed
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 of an onion, chopped, I used a small red onion
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • green onions, sliced
  • Monterey Jack cheese, although cheddar or a wide variety of other cheeses would work just as well

The Game Plan

Wrap your sweet potatoes individually in tin foil after washing them off and piercing them a few times with a fork.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  When it’s ready to go, pop the potatoes in and bake them for 45-50 minutes.

Heat a large skillet and cook the ground turkey until it’s cooked through, adding spices sometime during that process.  After the turkey is browned nicely, add the black beans.  Keep that mixture warm.

Mix up your guacamole.  You can add the ingredients to a small mixing bowl in any order–avocado, tomato, onion, lime (garlic would be a good addition, too).  Chop your green onions and set them aside.  Grate whatever cheese you want to throw on top.

Then you can just pile the innards as high as possible on the baked sweet potatoes.  I sliced the baked potatoes in half, opened them up, and added turkey/black beans, then cheese (so it would melt), guacamole, and green onions.  Order would be less important if it weren’t for the cheese melting thing.  And the visual appeal thing.  The guac and green onions were really pretty on top.

The beauty of this recipe is that you could add just about anything.  You could do turkey and frozen corn and different spices and cheese.  You could use ground beef or salsa or whatever you want to try.  You could make Italian stuffed sweet potatoes instead of Southwestern stuffed sweet potatoes.  The world is your oyster.

And let me remind you that yes, this completely satisfied my emotional need for pizza.  That’s a pretty big statement.

On the non-food front, our living room is still kind of like a construction zone, which is fine.  There are dishes to wash, clean laundry to fold, plants to water, and the world continues to turn.

Cooking With What You Have… and picking a good recipe

On this Monday night, I found myself with a spaghetti squash, some pork chops, and approximately zero motivation to cook. I do, however, have a need for tasty leftovers to send with Scott to work. Welcome to an impromptu (11 PM) dinner of roasted spaghetti squash and pan-fried Dijon pork chops*. Mmm.

Not what I looked like, mixing my mustard sauce. (photo from apartmenttherapy.com, which is great)

Not what I looked like, mixing my mustard sauce. (photo from apartmenttherapy.com, which is great)

I had intended to make squash casserole, but we didn’t have quite the right ingredients on hand, so I had to change the plan. Somewhere in my frantic internet search for pork chop ideas, I realized that my recipe search process has changed a lot in the last few years. That made me wonder if anybody else struggles to pick out recipes like I did (and sometimes still do). I realize that you’re probably a cooking genius and learned this ages ago, but just in case it could help you out… keep reading.

I used to pick recipes based on title, more or less. If it sounded good, I was in. It’s kind of the same technique I still use to pick wine. (Is the label nice?)

Now, I have a few quick screening tactics for recipes. First, I usually pick recipes from sources I trust. Your list could be full of family members. I certainly have some favorite recipes from my mom and my grandma. But for me, the larger list starts with Giada and The Pioneer Woman, Scott’s and my favorite cooks respectively. Then the list continues in lots of different directions. The common thread for all of my “trusted” sources is that I’ve made several recipes from that one source, with overwhelmingly positive results from that source.

I go to Martha Stewart if I’m feeling fancy or planning a bigger than average party. I go to Real Simple if I’m only enthusiastic enough about cooking to last for 20 minutes of prep and/or cooking. I go to loads of other loved cookbooks if I’m feeling more adventurous or if I’ve run out of good options in the traditional sources. (Good places to start: Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys, Dinner: A Love Story, William Sonoma’s Fast Weeknight cookbooks, and The New Cooking Light.)

Then comes the second screening tactic–look for some trusted ingredients. You know the ingredients you love and the ingredients you avoid. For me, mustard and lemons are a few of the “plus” ingredients, while expensive things we don’t already have in the pantry are a minus. Back when we had rosemary in the front yard, that was a major plus. Inexhaustible fresh herbs always help take something from good to great.

And there you go. Since I started using those really simple tools instead of nice recipe titles, my recipe success has sky-rocketed. I only wonder what would happen if I knew anything about wine.

*I honestly can’t find the recipe I used for the pork chops. But I think I remember it. Here goes: Mix 1/2 cup of Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of crushed garlic (or a smaller quantity of garlic powder), 1 teaspoon of honey, 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh parsley, and 2 teaspoons of garden herbs (which I translated into “All-Purpose Seasoning,” but could probably be interpreted as any number of herb mixes). Put that mixture into a plastic bag, add 4 pork loin chops to that bag, making sure that the chops are covered in the sauce. Let them sit in the bag for at least 5 minutes, then cook them on a grill or grill pan or whatever you have that is closest to those options. It will take 5-7 minutes per side to cook the pork chops through, but you can make sure you get it just right by going with an internal temperature of 145 degrees. I think our chops were on the thinner side, and thus only took 4-5 minutes per side to cook through. The recipe ended with a nice mustardy flavor and a happy brown crust on the pork chops. Last-minute win.

Family Disappointments (and Salmon Baked in Foil!)

My parents have helped me move and unpack a few times over the years. They’re really talented in their respective fields, but they might have missed their calling as professional home unpackers. When I moved from Winston-Salem to Chapel Hill, we finished packing the U-Haul in the morning, drove a few hours, got the boxes out of the van in the rain, and unpacked every single box in one day.

Granted, that was a one-bedroom apartment, and Scott and I are now in a large 3-bedroom house. Still, I’m disappointed that I didn’t quite get the family unpacking genes. It’s been exactly a week since the stuff got to the house, and I’d say that 75% of the boxes are unpacked. Maybe 67.8% or 72.3478%. Somewhere over halfway and less than almost done.

So there’s that. I’m also cooking in our sort-of organized kitchen, which is fantastic. Maybe I can credit my slow unpacking to the food situation. We used to eat hot dogs or corndogs or whatever until the boxes were unpacked. Not anymore. Now the 70’s cabinets don’t even bother me, because I can use our awesome pans and knives and soup bowls and all kinds of glasses and everything I could want.

Last night, after Scott got home from a really long day, we enjoyed Giada’s “Salmon Baked in Foil.” Om nom nom.

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salmony goodness (olive oil, salt-n-peppa’ on the other side)

Sometimes I can mess up fish, due to inexperience and severe over-cooking, mostly. Not this dish. The foil is kind of fool-proof.

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tomato topping with fun foil boats (and a touch of alliteration)

I used fresh tomatoes instead of canned, and I didn’t have any lemon juice. Since the grocery store is more than a hop, skip, and a jump away now, I used white vinegar instead (half the amount). Delicious. It tasted a lot more like comfort food than my typical light salmon recipe. Throw the boats on the plate with some veggies and quinoa, and it was a welcome end to a hard day.